November 22, 2016
PEN commemorates the Day of the Imprisoned Writer
by Taylor Sperry
“I’m writing to tell you that even through the concrete walls of your prison, beyond the guards, the barbed wire, the locks and keys, we can still hear your voice. Your words still shape the fight for freedom and the right to free expression.”
This is a selection of novelist Margaret Atwood’s letter to the imprisoned Turkish writer Aslı Erdoğan, sent to recognize the Day of the Imprisoned Writer, which PEN International has been commemorating, along with its affiliates, on November 15 of every year since 1981. Erdoğan has been in prison since August, when she was charged with “membership of a terrorist organization” and “undermining national unity.”
For The Guardian, Alison Flood reports that PEN has highlighted five “focus cases” this year that are “emblematic of the kinds of challenges and dangers writers face simply in the course of carrying out their free expression work.”
The others, in addition to Erdoğan, include the Egyptian novelist and journalist Ahmed Naji, the Honduran journalist Cesario Alejandro Félix Padilla Figueroa, the Palestinian poet Dareen Tatour, and Chinese publisher Gui Minhai.
According to a statement from PEN: “Writers are the conscience-keepers of society; they must remain free… And on this day, every year, the entire PEN community says in one voice that we will continue to fight for freedom for any writer, anywhere in the world, who is prevented from doing his or her work.”
Taylor Sperry is a former Melville House editor.